We need a sea change in our attitude to global warming

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Much of the country's rail network yesterday was at a standstill. Many motorways were blocked. Power supplies to tens of thousands of houses were cut off. After just a single night of severe weather, Britain suddenly woke up to find itself in the grip of a national emergency.

Much of the country's rail network yesterday was at a standstill. Many motorways were blocked. Power supplies to tens of thousands of houses were cut off. After just a single night of severe weather, Britain suddenly woke up to find itself in the grip of a national emergency.

In truth, it should not be like this. Britain is woefully ill-prepared for extremes of weather - even though the experience of recent years has taught us that extremes are now increasingly not the exception but the norm. And, we are told, things are going to get worse.

Above all, the latest weather crisis should teach us the urgent imperative to address the problems of climate change, which have too often continued to be a mere also-ran on the agenda of international debate. Much lip service has been paid to the scale of the problem; too little substantial change has yet been achieved.

As Michael Meacher, the environment minister, noted yesterday, it is now clear that global warming has a role to play in the alarmingly changed patterns of weather. That is important in the context of a summit in the Hague next month on climate change. All key experts now agree that pollution plays a key role.

In the short term, governments can do little to prevent the chaos that has engulfed the country in recent days. Rather, individuals and companies have seemed determined to ignore the explicit and detailed warnings that weather forecasters have been issuing on a daily basis since the middle of last week. The 1987 hurricane was famous for the forecasters' absolute failure to predict the devastation that was on the way. On this occasion, nobody could claim to have been left in ignorance.

Nobody can prevent trees from falling. Nor could the best planning in the world prevent flooding on this scale. The reaction could, however, have been different. Many motorists proceeded as though there were no flooding, thus making the problems worse. Commercial companies ploughed on regardless. P&O Ferries admitted that they had had "a little trouble" with the Kent ferry, which was stranded for hours with 1,700 passengers aboard, unable to dock. One question arises: given the predictable and predicted weather conditions, why did the ferry ever sail?

We can do little about the immediate crisis except sit it out. But the larger crisis of changing weather needs to be addressed. The Hague summit - which builds on the summit at Kyoto three years ago - must produce action, not just fine words.

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